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An atheist is a person who lacks a belief in god, or more traditionally, denies god’s existence. Either way, let’s assume two things: a) that this god sends you to hell if you’re wrong and b) that most atheists are not 100% certain in god not existing.

Now, suppose a belief in X can map to a credence in X between 0 and 1. Presumably, then, an atheist’s credence in the statement “God exists” may lie anywhere between 0 and a bit below 0.5.

Now, it is not hard to imagine, especially for an atheist who grew up with a religious upbringing, to have a higher fear of hell if his credence is 0.3 compared to another atheist whose credence is 0.05.

Given that any credence below 0.5 will presumably result in the person being an atheist, is it not then rational to de facto have a credence of 0? In other words, is it not rational for an atheist with a credence of 0.3 to take a leap of faith and practically have a credence of 0 instead, given that he will remain an atheist regardless? The overall status of being an atheist remains the same and yet the fear of a negative outcome can be significantly reduced.

Can this strategy be extended to any decision making process where being wrong results in a negative outcome?

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  • Like Peril Sensitive Sunglasses.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 8, 2023 at 10:12
  • Reversing the situation, a believer does not need to be rational. They do not require proof or reason, because (as an adult) their belief is a decision, an act of faith. It is only unbelievers or the uncommitted who need justification, to insist it is a matter of maths or science. Sometimes people lose their faith, but that does not mean their deity does not exist: it only means that what they perceived that deity to be, not longer exists for them. For example, an archbishop will not go through life believing that God sits on a cloud and has a beard and white robes. Jul 8, 2023 at 10:50
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    Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism Nietzsche
    – Rushi
    Jul 8, 2023 at 11:48
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    @armand indeed: When asked "do you believe in God" the response should be: "Tell me what God is, and then I'll tell you if I believe it". Jul 8, 2023 at 11:50
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    As for your strategy, it's kind of weird as people don't just decide to believe or be afraid by something or not. You can decide to act as if your belief is 0 although it is, say, 0.4. Particularly in the case of binaries like drink alcohol or not, or eat pork or not (one can't 0.4 drink alcohol, told either drink or not). If that is what you mean, maybe make it more explicit.
    – armand
    Jul 8, 2023 at 11:59

1 Answer 1

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is it not rational for an atheist with a credence of 0.3 to take a leap of faith and practically have a credence of 0 instead, given that he will remain an atheist regardless?

No. That would be equivalent to grading a student with zero simply because his correct answers are not enough to avert a failing grade.

An atheist might concede that there are some elements supporting a belief in some deity. This concession does not imply that those elements supersede the atheist's reasons for not believing in a deity.

Additionally, the atheist's reason(s) for concession might have nothing to do with a fear or consideration of the possibility of adverse consequences.

Can this strategy be extended to any decision making process where being wrong results in a negative outcome?

No. That would mistakenly confuse the concepts of probability of loss and severity of loss.

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